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Calls for more understanding of nurses with mental health problems

  • 12 Comments

There is “no evidence” to suggest that a nurse with a mental health problem would not be good at their profession, according to the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

There is “no evidence” to suggest that a nurse with a mental health problem would not be good at their profession, according to the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

The claim follows the case of nurse Penelope Rees, who last week was convicted of ill treating two elderly patients with dementia at the Whitchurch Hospital in Cardiff.

The trial judge called for an investigation into why Ms Rees, who has bipolar disorder with associated psychosis, was allowed to care for dementia patients while suffering from a serious mental health condition herself.

But an NMC spokesperson said: “There is no evidence to suggest that anyone with a mental health problem – bearing in mind how broad the term is – would be incapable of being a good nurse or midwife.” 

She added that responsibility for identifying health issues that could prevent a nurse from practising safely “start with the individual concerned” and that nurses must “inform someone in authority if they experience problems that prevent them from working within the code [of conduct].”

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, which runs the trust where Ms Rees worked, declined to comment on whether they were aware of her illness but said that a full investigation was underway.

In response to case, Royal College of Nursing mental health adviser Ian Hulat called for NHS organisations to provide more support and understanding for staff with mental health problems.

“People don’t tend to disclose mental illness because of the lack of understanding, the fear of discrimination, and the stigma attached to mental health conditions,” he said.

“If employers are serious about the health and well being of staff, they have to be encouraged to look at all aspects of health and create a climate whereby staff feel able to disclose a mental health problem. This is particularly important when they are caring for vulnerable people,” he added.

  • 12 Comments

Readers' comments (12)

  • Mental Health like physical health is such a wide spectrum it is difficult to say whether a nurse with Mental Health problems should be able to continue to practice as a nurse as there are different types of mental illnesses there are different types of physical illnesses e.g would a nurse diagnose with HIV be still alowed to practice compare to a nurse who has a diagnosis of sickle cell or nurse diagnose with depression compare to a nurse diagnose with schizophrenia. Therefore this would have to be fully discussed with the employer, occupational health and said nurse involved this is a very difficult situation and is not easy to resolve.

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  • This simply highlights again that mental health challenges are as variable as the individuals who experience them. It is about time the medical/nursing/social care industry started to show it recognises the individual experiences of mental and emotional challenge. In common with other health issues, mental and emotional issues can share signs and symptoms, but the impact of that particular challenge on individuals and their circle of support will be hugely different from one person to another. It's time the care and support field grew up and worked to this principle.

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  • i suffer from depression and have done for 7 years. five years ago i returned to the nhs, at my interview i explained that i found nights suited my situation both professionally and personelly. dispite this my lead nurse insisits that all staff rotate fully on to days and nights. i have recently had off duty that meant i would be working days one week and nights the next for a total of six weeks. this was changed increaslingly i had to check new rotas to see if they were workable. i referred myself to occupational health, we can up with a rota of three weeks nights then one of days. i find days nosiy and this causes me to be more stressed and then feel unalbe to cope. i feel that my mental health has not been taken in to consideration. i have expalined all this and yes i do end up taking more sick leave, but this is because no one is listening. my ward manger has now agreed to the rota but it is yet to be implemented. the government wants to cut sick leave, then tell the boses to listen to their staff.

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  • I believe that depending on the degree of severity of depression, nurses can continue to work and make a valuable contribution to mental health nursing.I do think that the nursing culture does not help though as we are encouraged to take on extra tasks, work through breaks etc or risk being ostracised by our peers. If a person with a mental health issue is going to work, they need to have good boundaries and assertiveness as well as an awareness and willingness of not trying to overcompensate as this tends to end in disaster. I have had depression for four years and have found that disclosure can be a double-edged sword. After I confided about my issue, I found I was taken less seriously and legitimate work related complaints were dismissed as an inability to cope. I think mental health nurses are some of the worst offenders and should be more empathic. I have an insight into depression now that I would have never had if it had not happened to me and I think that is one of the reasons I'm a good nurse- because I know how it feels. I am not ashamed of having depression but I will certainly think twice about sharing this information with my colleagues in the future.

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  • I believe that depending on the degree of severity of depression, nurses can continue to work and make a valuable contribution to mental health nursing.I do think that the nursing culture does not help though as we are encouraged to take on extra tasks, work through breaks etc or risk being ostracised by our peers. If a person with a mental health issue is going to work, they need to have good boundaries and assertiveness as well as an awareness and willingness of not trying to overcompensate as this tends to end in disaster. I have had depression for four years and have found that disclosure can be a double-edged sword. After I confided about my issue, I found I was taken less seriously and legitimate work related complaints were dismissed as an inability to cope. I think mental health nurses are some of the worst offenders and should be more empathic. I have an insight into depression now that I would have never had if it had not happened to me and I think that is one of the reasons I'm a good nurse- because I know how it feels. I am not ashamed of having depression but I will certainly think twice about sharing this information with my colleagues in the future.

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  • I went through a bout of stress and depression brought on by work problems and caseload size; there was very little support and I felt bullied until I eventually resigned. That was the beginning of me believing in myself as a capable nurse again and finding a job where I was valued for my knowledge and proffessionalism. When are we going to learn that the NHS cannot work properly if staff are not supported throught stressful periods in their lives. We are all closer to mental health problems than we think!

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  • It is the nurses responsibility to inform management? Really! What happened to supervision, mentorship, and common sense care?
    I worked with a medic who was very ill and his team didn't want to "get involved" until it was too late - the same with nurses - colleagues want to bury their heads in the sand and often ignore the signs that someone is not coping.
    I once failed/referred a student because I believed said st. was unfit to work and was verbally abused by her tutors - the student eventually got the help needed but it came from the clinical staff and not the tutorial staff - We all have a responsibilty to care for, not only our patients - but each other - and not because we're all fuzzy and soft but because if colleagues are fit and healthy our own workload is lessened and our patients safe.

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  • I am a former nurse who suffered from depression following my mother's death just 2 months after commencing a new post at a hospital. I felt at the time, and still feel, that support was severely lacking following this, which resulted in my feeling isolated and my mental health not being taken seriously. I became more and more depressed. (I actually worked on a mental health ward, and felt that the staff ignored my distress to a large degree).

    I truly feel that, if I had been listened to properly (I asked for shorter shifts, both for my son and my benefit, as we were both distraught at the passing of a beloved mother and grandmother), then I could have eased myself back into my duties and would undoubtedly have become a better person for it, as well as becoming more confident both in my ability, and in my colleagues.

    I feel that ward managers should start listening to staff members who report feeling stressed and take them seriously, referring them to the appropriate help if necessary.

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  • I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 4 years ago, I had had depressive episodes for some time and then eventually I decided to seek help and went of sick for almost a year, I am very pleased to say that the department that I worked in and still do was very supportive to my surprise as I was so embarrassed to admit being a nurse with a mental health problem. I was encouraged back to work, with a phasing in period and now have a set shift pattern that most definately has helped towards my recovery. I have taken responsibility for my own mental health, have seeked professional help and still do. I am open and honest about my 'illness' im not embarrassed of it, this experience has taught me a lot, I am very aware of my ability as a nurse working in a highly acute area, I dont work overtime take regular annual leave, and monitor how im feeling daily if need be. I was most worried that collegues would not take me seriously on returning to practice this has never been the case, most people are surprised that this is the reason i was away from work. Admitting my 'illness' was very scarey as I could not have faced leaving a profession that I enjoy and worked very hard at achieving, and continue to. My advice to employers of staff who are experiencing mental health issues/problems is that you demonstrate support, flexibility and promote a good working environment that as a team you are all aware of the stresses and strains of the job, and that for some this can compound already existing 'problems' for them. and to those practicing with a mental health problem are aware of what triggers and how to avoid this in their work, having a mental health problem does not make you necessarily unsafe to the public and it is true you are more at risk to your self than others, a better understanding of mental health and particular depression and similar conditions would certainly improve attitudes.

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  • I disclosed my depression to my ward sister and asked for support with staffing. She denied me any scrap of help so I went on to say technically I come under the disability at work act and some consideration should be given to that. I couldn't believe what she said I quote "if you are officially saying you have a disability I will ask you to leave the ward immediately". I'm passionate about breaking the stigma of depression and to be told this was for her the worst thing she could have done. I reported her for discrimination and bullying and within 24 hrs she was disciplined and I was given support. I'm lucky I have a strong character and am very capable of standing up to bullying. I also feel I have a duty to use my voice to help smash the stigma for those with depression who can't. The above incident has spread round my place of work like wildfire and I'm now getting people coming up to me saying well done and thank you. I feel I have done something really positive to achieve my goal of making people with depression feel unashamed.

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